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For many industries, flame-resistant (FR) clothing has been widely adopted as a means of protecting employees from burn injury or even death. However, while the fire service community takes firefighter safety very seriously, it’s estimated that only a quarter of fire departments require flame-resistant station wear. This paper demonstrates why FR station wear should be considered an integral part of every firefighter’s personal protective equipment (PPE).
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Even the most comprehensive safety program can only mitigate—not eliminate—risk associated with the flash fire hazard. A reliable and controllable means of protecting employees from harm is the proper use of PPE. In a flash fire context, flame resistant clothing provides further protection and offers a foundational defense. This paper guides safety managers and purchasers in the selection, use, care and maintenance of clothing for flash fire protection that’s compliant with the industry consensus standard NFPA® 2112.
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For industries operating in an inherently dangerous environment, the importance of selecting the right Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) can’t be understated. Our FR Handbook is a guide for safety managers, or whoever is tasked with ensuring the safety of their workers, through the process of selection, implementation, care, and maintenance and to outline the various FR (Flame-Resistant) and AR (Arc-Rated) clothing options that are available and compliant with the many regulations, responsibilities, and requirements.
Have you ever wondered how FR apparel came to be? Believe it or not, the earliest uses of flame resistant materials can be traced back to Ancient Greece! Needless to say, a few things have changed over the centuries. This whitepaper will take you through the history of FR fabrics, from the days of antiquity to its modern day applications.
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There’s a lot of confusion when it comes to the terms “treated” and “inherent” FR. What’s the difference? And, more importantly, does one offer better protection than the other? In short, the answer is no. But in order to understand why, we must start by understanding what these terms mean and why they were applied to FR fabric in the first place.
Definition & Engineering
“Inherent” FR refers to a fabric that has FR properties—defined by the fabric’s ability to self-extinguish when the ignition source is removed—by its very nature, as a core property. In other words, a fabric is FR without any additional finishing. “Treated” FR on the other hand, refers to a fabric that has been engineered with flame-retardant chemistry to have FR properties that were not present prior to the treatment.
There are 3 levels at which FR properties can be achieved:
• The Molecular Level – Synthetic derivatives are engineered at the molecular level to be FR (e.g., Nomex, Kermel, Twaron, Kevlar, etc.)
• The Fiber Level – At this level, flame-retardant chemicals are added to the process prior to the fiber being extruded (e.g., FR Modacrylics, FR Rayons)
• The Fabric Level – FR properties are permanently imparted into flammable fabrics through a combination of chemical and mechanical processes (e.g., FR Cotton, 88/12)
When these terms were adopted by the FR world over 30 years ago, they reflected the durability of flame resistant technology at that time. Back then, the intent was to imply that “Inherent” was superior to “treated.” Why? Because at one time, it was true. Cotton and other cellulosic materials are naturally flammable, so they do have to undergo a chemical process, or “treatment,” to impart FR properties. And these early “treated” garments did lose their FR properties over time and after repeated washings. Treated fabrics, prior to 1987, could not compete with aramids as a durable FR alternative.
Over the past 30 years, however, we’ve made dramatic advancements in FR technology that have blurred the lines between these two terms. “Inherent” and “treated” have become so common and so misused that the terms now create more confusion than clarity. Most popular FR fabrics today are blends of several different fibers, and this has created confusion on where and when to apply the current labels. Because “inherent” and “treated” refer to single fiber types, they fail to accurately represent today’s complex blends—which sometimes combine all 3 engineering levels. For example, what should we call a fabric that is 35% Aramid (engineered at the molecular level) and 65% FR cotton (engineered at the fiber level)? When a fabric is a combination of both inherent and treated FR fabrics, and with no rules in place about how to apply the terms, they become more confusing than helpful.
FR technology has come a long way. The fabrics in use today are far superior to those of just a generation previous, and the terms we use to discuss them must make the same evolution. The bottom line is, when it comes to selecting FR fabrics, the most important considerations should always be protection, comfort and durability. No matter which fabric you select, be sure that you can count on the FR properties to last, wash after wash. Bulwark offers an FR guarantee for the lifetime of the garment, on all of our products. To ensure your safety program does what it’s supposed to do: keep you and your guys safe.
AR, FR, ATPV, OSHA. The list goes on and on. If there’s one thing that’s true about FR safety, it’s that there are a lot of terms to memorize. It’s not always easy to keep the various words and acronyms straight, but when it comes to building and implementing an effective safety program, knowing your FR vocabulary is important. Here, our FR experts have compiled the most important of those terms in a handy alphabetized glossary so you can create a culture of compliance.
An arc flash is a type of electrical explosion where temperatures can reach or exceed 35,000 °F. The Arc Flash hazard affects all who work in and around energized electrical equipment. This can include general industry electricians, maintenance workers and operators, as well as our electric utilities, including transmission, distribution, generation and metering.
Arc-Rated (AR) Protective Clothing
Arc-rated protective clothing protects from arc flash and electric arc hazards. AR garments are measured in cal/cm². The total AR clothing system must meet or exceed required arc protection levels. Remember, all AR is FR, but not all FR is AR.
Breakopen is the formation of holes in the fabric during arc rating testing. This is the point of failure of FR protective garments.
Energy Break-Open Threshold is an alternative measure to ATPV when that measure cannot be used due to breakopen.
A rapid moving flame front that can be caused by a diffuse fuel, such as dust, gas, or the vapors of an ignitable liquid, without the production of damaging pressure. Flash fire is the primary hazard in the Oil & Gas industry, which includes exploration, drilling, field services and refining.
Hazard Risk Assessment
The first step in the creation of any PPE program is the Hazard Assessment. Federal regulations require employers to assess the workplace to determine if hazards that require the use of personal protective equipment are present or are likely to be present. These include impacts, combustible dust, fire/heat, and chemical hazards, among others.
HRC (Hazard Risk Category)
Hazard risk categories are defined by NFPA® 70E and assigned based on risk associated with electrical safety and arc flash. HRC levels determine the appropriate ATPV of flame-resistant clothing for a given task.
Replaces HRC in 2015 edition of NFPA 70E, the “0” category was eliminated in NFPA 70E 2015. The minimum ATPV’s for PPE Category 1 through 4 are the same as they were for HRC, and the new PPE table only specifies PPE for work within the arc flash boundary.
HRC 2 rated garments have an arc rating between 8 cal/cm² and 25 cal/cm² and are often referred to as “daily wear.”
HRC 3 rated garments have an arc rating between 25 cal/cm² and 40 cal/cm².
HRC 4 rated garments have an arc rating equal or greater than 40 cal/cm². These high ratings are achieved with a layered FR system. Download our FR Layering Fact Sheet to learn the do’s and don’ts of layering for FR.
Inherently Flame Resistant
Inherently flame resistant fabrics are engineered to be flame-resistant at the fiber level, and do not require any additional finishing.
The National Fire Protection Association is an agency whose task it is to promote and improve fire protection and prevention. They publish National Fire Codes.
Refers to NFPA’s “Standard on Flame Resistant Garments for Protection of Industrial Personnel Against Flash Fire.” NFPA® 2112 is the “go-to” industry consensus standard that addresses flash fire. It defines the testing methods and performance requirements for flame-resistant fabrics for this hazard.
The “Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace,” NFPA® 70E is meant to protect those working around potential arc flash hazards. Note that NFPA® 70E applies only to general industry electrical safety, not to electric utility workers.
Founded by the Occupational Safety & Health Act of 1970, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) mission is to “assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.” Their general duty clause ensures a safe workplace for all employees and is the basis for all industry consensus standards. OSHA determines regulations and standards related to personal protective equipment.
The regulation states that power utilities make reasonable estimates of the incident heat energy to which their employee would be exposed, and that employees exposed to hazards from electric arcs wear AR clothing and other protective equipment with an arc rating greater than or equal to the estimated heat energy.
Founded in 1918, The American National Standards Institute coordinates and develops voluntary standards for products, services, and systems. The organization’s goals include performance consistency and product safety. It is the U.S. member body to ISO and IEC.
PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)
Personal protective equipment is specialized safety gear worn by an employee for protection against a hazard. Flame resistant/arc rated garments are a form of personal protective clothing worn against thermal hazards.
Moisture wicking fabrics pull moisture (sweat) away from the body and dry quickly, keeping the wearer cooler, dryer, and more comfortable. Bulwark iQ Series® FR Comfort Knits and Wovens are among the best moisture wicking FR garments available.
Breathability refers to how well a fabric allows air to be transmitted through the material. The more air that passes through, the cooler the wearer stays. Bulwark iQ Series® Endurance Collection is the first of its kind to offer high level FR protection in a material that is extremely breathable and durable.
If you serve the Oil & Gas industry, then you’re likely familiar with NFPA® 2112. It’s the industry consensus standard that lays out the requirements for FR garments to enter the market, including the capabilities and characteristics of the fabrics, the construction of the garment and more. Read our fact sheet to learn more about the changes to this important document’s 2018 revision.
Layered FR systems are a great way to keep your team safe and compliant—especially as the weather turns cold. But FR layering can get tricky, and when gear is layered improperly it can undercut the protection it is designed to provide. Recent updates to FR layering standards have added greater confusion to an already complicated topic. That’s why our FR experts have compiled a list of their top five layering tips, complete with the cited standards, so you can easily find the information that’s relevant to your business.